Catching Pigeons: Think on
Our Catching Pigeons column brings you all the latest whispers from the major training centres ahead of the weekend's action.
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Nicky Henderson has pretty much dominated the EBF Stallions & TBA Mares National Hunt Novices Hurdle Final in recent years and has a good chance of winning the 2014 renewal at Newbury on Saturday.
The Seven Barrows trainer can have three of four entries for this prestigious race some seasons, but just Free Thinking takes her chance with Sam Waley-Cohen on board this time around.
A useful performer in bumpers, she has run only three times over hurdles so far. However, she has shown enough to suggest she can make her presence felt off what looks a relatively lenient handicap mark.
Alan King also has a good record in this race and a big run is anticipated from both Midnight Cataria and The Pirate's Queen, whose chance might diminish a little with further rain.
Henderson should again come out best in the opening Ultima Mark Elliot And Jared Johnston Novices Hurdle with Sign Of A Victory.
Conditions of this race suit him well in that he escapes a penalty for his two wins over timber, and his recent work has been of a high order.
The King team will be keen to have a winner at a meeting important to yard sponsor Ultima, and they should be on the mark in the DBS Doncaster Sales Bumper with L'Amiral David.
He faces plenty of opposition, not least from stablemates Hurricane Vic and Springboks, but this race has been the target for some time and he should know much more of what is required after his eye-catching debut on this course three weeks ago.
Stiff Upper Lip did not beat a whole lot when recording his first win over timber at the last meeting here, but he could not have won much easier and looks worth taking a chance with in the John Haine Memorial Handicap Hurdle.
He looks reasonably handicapped, should handle the step up in trip and is open to further improvement. Top-weight Fitzwilly could be the danger after a good run at Kempton a week ago.
Thomas Brown left a lot of money behind when he flopped badly on his latest start at Newbury, but he remains one of Harry Fry's best prospects, and should redeem his reputation in the bumper at Bangor.
Connections hope Grandeur can still overcome his draw of 14 for 14 in Saturday's feature race, the coral.co.uk Winter Derby at Lingfield.
The five-year-old continues to please them in his work with Dutiful Son and had a blow out on the Al Bahatri on Wednesday. The Gosden team will be keeping an eye on Dick Doughtwylie, who has been leading The Fugue in some of her recent work.
Jeremy Noseda, who trains Grandeur, has had Seb Sanders riding out for him this week while Frankie Dettori was in on Saturday for another sit on recent maiden winner Sloane Avenue. He held an entry at Lingfield at one stage this week while there's also talk of a campaign in America for him.
Ertijaal, the most talked about entry in the listed 32Red Spring Cup, looks a very exciting prospect, but also has plenty of running to do from his outside stall.
If things fall right, he has the ability to overcome the handicap, but it may pay to stick with a better value option again in the shape of the Richard Hannon-trained Expert, who is drawn on the inside.
He took a bit of settling down last season, but the Hannon team managed to get him on the straight and narrow and a change of riding tactics saw his win on his final start.
Although the Hannon team often take a week or two to find top stride, they often manage a winner or two at this meeting, and he should be fit enough to do himself justice.
Hannon won the Download The Ladbrokes App Maiden 12 months ago and should go close again with Shafrah, as should the Haggas-trained newcomer Mount Shamsan.
Our pick however, is the John Gosden-trained debutant Court Room. He was well regarded as a juvenile, but did not manage to get to the racecourse. He should soon make up for lost time.
Preparations in Headquarters are stepping up a gear and Jamie Spencer rode two lots for Peter Chapple-Hyam on Wednesday, including another sit on the once-raced and highly-regarded Arod.
Adam Kirby has been riding out for Ed Dunlop, Hayley Turner for Clive Brittain and James Fanshawe while it's also a busy time for the racing managers!
Angus Gold was on hand to see Richard Hills partner a highly-regarded maiden for Roger Varian while Lord Grimthorpe had to dash between Lady Cecil, Sir Michael Stoute and John Gosden as the Juddmonte battalions are readied.
Colourful, an unraced half-sister to Riposte, was spotted moving well for the Warren Place team.
Finally David Simcock could be providing his mum Ann with an early Mother's Day gift when herSian Gwalia runs in the 32Red.com All Weather 'Hands And Heels' Apprentice Series Final Handicap at Lingfield on Saturday. The excellent Georgean Buckell does the steering aboard the in-form Echo Of Light filly.